There was a time when fan conventions were closeted affairs, rare weekend retreats to another world. Now we have a Twilight convention almost every month, and geek is more chic when stars like Ryan Reynolds hang out at Comic-Con. Likewise, conventions are no longer the primary means to connect with other fans. With the proliferation of social networking and media sharing, fans are in constant communication. Fan fiction, meta, and other discussion are at your fingertips on LiveJournal, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews are all over YouTube, and subcultural celebrities like Supernatural’s Misha Collins have their own Twitters and Facebooks, creating an incredible sense of intimacy and transparency.
Of course, fans still attend conventions, as Jack Walsh’s documentary holds testament to, but for the fans who can’t make it out, the experience isn’t lost. Armed with cell phones, cameras, and laptops, convention attendees are tweeting updates and uploading pictures and videos for the fans at home. Such convention multimedia is practically instantaneous, the internet audience seeing or hearing it all as it happens or shortly thereafter. You can see this illustrated in my video, a compilation of tweets from the recent Salute to Supernatural convention in Vancouver. Among other media shared, the collection of #vancon tweets builds a picture of the convention experience in bite-sized pieces.
But is this all just secondhand minutiae? Unlucky fans scrabbling for crumbs, with the lucky ones - at best - deigning to share and - at worst - showing off? No, something much more important is happening. The fan convention as it’s reported online transforms into a curiously separate event for the virtual attendee. While the traditional draw of the fan convention is the gathering in close proximity of a marginal, dispersed community, there is just as much - in fact, more - attendance online through Twitter updates and media shared, facilitating discussion between people who weren’t even at the physical event. The fan dispersal of convention coverage online potentially allows the non-attendee a similar degree of intimacy, and what's more, a sense of mastery as they are able to access a developing archive of material that one individual at a convention may not be able to experience. The online fan can be exposed to two panel discussions at once, for instance; they can choose the most important pieces of information to immediately enfold into their fan practices.
We can see this particularly at work in real person fan fiction (RPF). RPF writers depend upon knowledge of the actors they write about in order to develop their stories. The #vancon tweets transmit snapshots of who the actors are, crystallized not in an attendee’s personal memory but in a collective archive that any fan can access. These tweets inform the fans’ images of the actors as characters, and certain tropes as a result are represented, explored, and sometimes inverted in RPF according to this developing network narrative.
The proliferation of information access in fan culture offers the opportunity for a constantly evolving community of collective intelligence. Even as the convention attendees provide the initial data, the information is shared virtually, collected and retweeted, appropriated and shared again in fan works. This kind of living, breathing archive holds incredible potential for fan practices – but does it ever run the risk of reducing passion and personal experience to information bytes?